Paddling technique ….. from Head Coach – Leigh Paine

An outrigger is pulled not pushed through the water. To do this, paddlers need to reach out, grab
the water and drag the canoe forward. Most blades also have a bend (usually around 10 degrees,
held with the blade bending away from the paddler) which increases the lift of the blade as it
enters the water. This effectively pulls and lifts the canoe to decrease the canoe surface area and
the water resistance. Lift is achieved by focusing power at the front of the stroke.

The paddle should exit the water when it reaches the paddlers mid-thigh to hip. Extending the
stroke beyond this point decreases the lift generated and increases drag. Synchronised paddling;
with all paddles entering and exiting the water at the same time and all paddlers using the same
technique; provides the maximum pull and lift for the minimum effort. This can only be achieved
through developing a consistent paddling technique both individually and as team, it requires

Rotating from the hips allows paddlers to apply leverage and deliver maximum pull through the
water. Twisting the upper body instead of using the arms utilises stronger muscle groups and
minimises fatigue. This reach and twist motion requires flexibility. Locking the lower body and
arms also results in less rocking of the canoe creating a consistent streamlined hull. Paddlers
should maintain a straight line up the spine, twisting around this plane, with heads up and all in a
row. The optimum degree of lean (forward) is influenced by the paddler. Smaller paddlers may
use a dynamic approach where they lean forward a little (10-30 degrees) at the start of the stroke
to increase reach and then straighten during the stroke to provide power. Others should focus on
a static approach with minimum lean and no forward/backward body movement. Inappropriate
lean increases lower back stress and should never be excessive, larger paddlers should always
adopt a static style.

Paddling technique is continually under review and development. Consequently there are a wide
range of differing ideas about what constitutes good technique; however everyone agrees that all
paddlers in a canoe should have the same technique. The following Paddling Phases can be used
as a general guide.

Set Up Phase

The stroke commences.

  • Maximum reach and twist with the paddle blade just out of the water.
  • Paddle blade perpendicular to canoe hull.
  • Lower hand around 1 hand width from the start of the blade face.
  • Top hand should not be outside the canoe.
  • Bottom arm with minimal bend and locked.
  • Top arm slightly bent and locked.
  • Leading leg (paddle side) extended and firmly planted. Offside leg bent under the seat.
  • Both legs (knees) braced against canoe to lock the paddler in.
  • Straight back, possibly a small forward lean.
  • Head up.
  • Basically your arms and shoulders should form a “big C”

Entry Phase

Plant the blade. Push the blade cleanly into the water.

  • Everyone at the same time.
  • Drop bottom shoulder to move arms down and drive the full blade into the water up to the neck.
  • Strive for a clean entry (no plonking) by maintaining the paddle perpendicular to the canoe and entering the water at the speed (horizontal paddle movement) of the canoe.
  • At this stage you are not pulling the canoe just getting the blade planted.

Catch Phase

This phase commences once the full blade is in the water and can be considered as the preparation for the power phase. It delivers lift to the canoe and minimises drag on the canoe. Pull the canoe through the water.

  • Start body rotation and apply pressure to the top hand, this moves the canoe forward and creates lift.
  • The paddle shaft moves toward the vertical and becomes fully anchored.

Power Phase

The blade is now aligned with the maximum surface area and the canoe is ready to absorb the surge of power. Pull with power.

  • Drive with the extended leg.
  • Rotate with locked arms.
  • Straighten upper body.
  • Focus on pulling the canoe through the water creating a power surge.

Exit Phase

This phase occurs once the blade reaches the mid-thigh to hip. Leaving the blade in the water past this point increases the drag.

  • Everyone at the same time.
  • Rotation is complete and the blade is quickly removed from the water by rolling the shoulders to lift the bottom and drop the top hand.
  • Some bend naturally occurs in the bottom arm at this stage.
  • There should be no power applied, focus on getting the blade clear of the water.

Recovery Phase

Return the paddle to the Set Up Phase.

  • Relax and recover.
  • Twist top wrist to feather the blade over the water.
  • Rotate back to the set up position, straightening the bottom arm.
  • Keep bottom hand travel parallel and just off the canoe side.